.UCSC Unveils ‘Blueprint’ for Long Range Development Plan

In a future envisioned by the UC regents, the student population at UCSC will increase by 43%, with a commensurate expansion of faculty over the next 20 years. Additionally, all new students and many faculty members will be housed on campus, with a compact footprint for new development that leaves the university’s natural areas intact.

This includes four new residential colleges and housing for up to 25% of new employees.

These ambitions, outlined in the Long Range Development Plan and a related environmental impact report (EIR) that were approved by the UC Board of Regents and the Finance and Capital Strategies Committee in September, is a framework for how UCSC will grow over the next two decades.

In the coming years, university officials will work with city and county leaders to balance the proposed growth with the needs of the broader community, says UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive.

“I believe we can both fulfill our mission to serve California and continue to be a great neighbor in Santa Cruz,” she says. “With the plan approved, we can focus on addressing the remaining concerns. The campus, city and county have a strong relationship, and I know we’re on the path toward resolution.”

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That is an important part of the future planning process. With the increased water usage that comes with such growth, in addition to traffic and housing issues, it’s important to get buy-in from local leaders, says Santa Cruz County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty.

“That’s going to have an enormous impact on a community our size,” says Coonerty. “Creating access to students when you don’t create affordable housing or available classes is not really increasing access to higher education.”

Coonerty says that when the previous LRDP was created, the city and county leaders sued the university, before all parties went into negotiations about how the plans might be carried out.

This time around is different, he says.

“Before we start talking about any kind of litigation, we’re doing mediation,” he says. 

In 2008, Coonerty says, the university made a commitment to house two-thirds of new enrollment and to reduce water and traffic use, plans which were largely successful, he says.

“They lived up to those commitments since 2008, and now we’re looking for them to continue and expand on those commitments as we move forward with this LRDP,” he says. 

It is important to note, Larive says, that the LRDP contains no specific development projects, each of which would be subject to environmental reviews and approval by the regents. Instead, it lays out in a general way how the campus might develop in the coming years.

“The plan is a blueprint,” she says. “It’s a framework that guides future development for the campus.”

Larive also says that the current plans almost mirror those of the university’s founders, who in 1965 planned for 27,500 students by 1990.

The LRDP came after more than four years of work by campus leaders, planners and other community members. It garnered unanimous support from the UC Board of Regents Finance and Capital Strategies Committee. 

“We heard a lot of input, and that input was incorporated into this plan,” Larive says.

Larive says that the university is already successfully addressing water concerns, using less water than it did 25 years ago thanks to initiatives such as using rainwater capture and storm runoff.

The proposed Student Housing West project, for example, calls for its own wastewater treatment plant, making it a zero net new use project, Larive says. 

Because plans call for housing all new students on campus—and many employees—the reduced vehicular traffic will also help ease traffic issues, UCSC officials say. In addition, campus leaders will encourage pedestrian, bicycle and transit use.

“It’s impossible to fully predict university life 20 years from now,” Larive says. “But it is prudent that our campus produces a well-thought-out roadmap that can serve as a guide regardless of what the year 2040 brings.”

Andrew Schiffrin, a UCSC lecturer who works in Coonerty’s office and sits on the Santa Cruz Planning Commission, says he hopes that UCSC’s plans to expand enrollment will be tied to its creation of new on-campus housing.

The EIR, Schiffrin says, assumes the university will meet its housing objectives, and it therefore minimizes the impact of the plan on the local housing market.

“I think it’s very critical that given the housing crisis in the city and the county as a whole, that the university house all new students on campus and not grow if they are not able to do that,” he says. “In other words, to tie the housing to the growth in enrollment.”

The trouble, he says, is that there are no enforcement mechanisms for either the LRDP or the EIR.

“And I think that’s the rub,” he says.

For the 1988 LRDP, UCSC had a goal of housing 75% of new students on campus. But at the end of the time period indicated in the plan, that goal had not been met. The high cost of new construction was likely a contributing factor, he says.

“It’s hard to build housing,” he says. “It’s expensive to build housing. I don’t think it was bad faith on the part of the university in not meeting the 1988 objectives.”

But in 2005, when the LRDP was challenged in court, the university agreed in a legally-binding settlement to provide housing for two-thirds of the new students. 

“And they did it,” he says. “When they had to do it they did it, and I think that’s what the issue is here. The university needs to bind itself as it did in the 2008 settlement agreement to carry out their objective.”

UCSC first-year politics major Zennon Ulyate-Crow, 19, who serves as president of the Student Housing Coalition, says that the LRDP and its associated EIR is a “good step forward” that will allow the university—and others in the UC system—to handle growing numbers of young people that are seeking a four-year degree.

“For generations moving forward, education is key for people to escape poverty,” he says. “Key to bettering themselves and making sure we can have a more globalized educated citizenry.”

Ulyate-Crow also says the plan allows the university—which has already grown from its inaugural class to 19,000 students while maintaining the natural beauty for which it is known—to continue its growth while living harmoniously with its environment.

Ulyate-Crow says that the campus already is facing a housing crisis of its own, with skyrocketing housing costs in the communities surrounding it and an increasing number of students demanding on-campus apartments. In his dorm, where the lounge was recently converted to a living space, two rooms have five occupants, he says. Addressing the problem, he says, will take a community-wide effort.

“The crisis is on an order of magnitude none of us can even begin to comprehend,” he says. “And so in that essence, it’s not really anybody’s fault. However, we all have a duty to solve it.”

Santa Cruz Mayor Donna Meyers does not think the university has adequately addressed the potential impacts the proposed growth will have on traffic, housing and water use, or the increased greenhouse gas emissions. In a 28-page letter to the UC Board of Regents, Myers says the city expressed concerns about the EIR that accompanied the plan.

“We don’t feel like we got appropriate mitigation for those things,” Myers said. “We don’t feel like the responses were adequate.”

Like Schiffrin, Meyers says that the university should tie any enrollment increases to actual housing production. But any housing projects would likely face an uphill battle, in a foundering economy where construction costs are skyrocketing and residents increasingly disfavor additional development in their communities.

It’s not clear how much say the city would have over development projects that are approved by the university and the state.

Myers says that decisions on many housing projects have been taken out of the hands of city councils, planning departments and other elected officials, thanks to California laws such as Senate Bill 35 that require a “streamlined ministerial process” to promote housing production.

Santa Cruz got its first taste of SB35 recently when the City Council rejected the inaugural project submitted under the new law because several council members believed the proposed 140-unit development at 831 Water St. was a “segregated housing proposal,” among other things.

In response, the California Department of Housing and Community Development submitted a letter to the city saying that their rejection of the project was illegal under SB35 and that it needed to work with the developer on a “speedy resolution of this matter.”

The development is expected to return to the City Council at its Nov. 23 meeting. 

“It’s really hard as an elected official to have that authority adjusted by the state,” she says. “There has been a hit to how we shape our communities from a land-use perspective.”

Myers says she hopes the upcoming talks with the university will help ameliorate the concerns over the EIR.

“We did the work to document the impact to the community, but this gives us a little more time to come to the table and try to look at those things,” she says.


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